Hunger Strike

A unique dining event raises money for local food charities

Twelve Ulster County food relief organizations have banded together to host a fund-raising dinner aimed at increasing awareness about hunger. But there’s a catch: Even though you’ll pay $35 for a ticket, there’s a chance you’ll leave hungry.

The Hunger Banquet, organized by the Ulster County nonprofit group Queens Galley, takes place at Kingston’s Backstage Productions on March 28 from 5-7 p.m. In addition to dinner, the event features a lecture by Chef Sarah Copeland, a representative for the Food Network’s charitable efforts to prevent childhood famine.

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As each banquet guest arrives, he or she is handed an envelope containing a raffle ticket and a card with the number one, two, or three on it. The numbers represent the basic tiers in which hunger affects our society, explains Diane Reeder of the Queens Galley. The 15 percent of guests with a “one” card will be treated to a gourmet dinner served on fine china and linens, prepared by Chef Samir Hrichi of Kingston’s Ship to Shore restaurant. This group accounts for the percentage of the general public for whom food is plentiful. “I told Hrichi that I want the food to be over the top — so good that when people even think about the memory of the meal, they’ll cry,” laughs Reeder.

Those who receive a “two” card will be part of the 35 percent of Americans who have what Reeder calls “food insecurity,” meaning they can afford to eat, but can’t afford top-quality meals. Because children are highly affected by this, “two” cardholders will be fed a school lunch from the Kingston school district menu.

sarah copelandFamine fighter: Food Network recipe developer and chef, Sarah Copeland, is the Hunger Banquet’s guest speaker

hunger is not an option flyerBanquet flyer

The remaining 50 percent of attendees (“three” cardholders) exemplify those who have to deal with hunger every day. These diners will be given refined white rice, a slice of white bread, and a glass of water. They’ll be seated, but not at a table.

During the course of the dinner, an emcee will call raffle numbers. Those with the matching ticket have the opportunity (or misfortune) to shift tiers. A diner in the first section might have the mock-experience of losing his or her job, and be sent to sit in tier two. Conversely, someone eating rice and bread might “win the lottery” and move up to a gourmet table.

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“One goal of the banquet is to make people more aware that hunger is a problem in our community,” Reeder says. More people in this region are using resources such as soup kitchens than they have in recent years. In 2007, for example, the Queens Galley served 1,200 meals per month. Last year, that number shot up to 9,500 meals per month.

“It’s sometimes an invisible issue for many of us who live in such an agricultural area,” Reeder says. “With today’s economy, more people find themselves wondering not just what to make for dinner, but if they can even provide dinner.”

For information on the event or to purchase tickets, visit

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